Ms. Seuffert, in your op-ed piece last week, you make some grand, leaping conclusions about increased crime and the presence of West Suburban PADS in the Village of Oak Park. [Grabbing our village back from criminals, Viewpoints, June 3] I think the best way to respond to your opinions is to provide some historical facts, since you may be unaware of our agency’s history (and since you didn’t bother to call us and ask).

West Suburban PADS was started by caring individuals from Oak Park who saw the need to provide those who were homeless with a warm, safe place to sleep, “a cot” if you will, and “a hot meal.” Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations stepped forward and opened their doors so individuals wouldn’t have to sleep on the street, in doorways or in alleys. The members of those congregations became volunteers to both staff these rotating shelters and purchase, prepare and serve the shelter meals.

All of this pioneering effort occurred between 1991 and 1992. Seventeen years later, West Suburban PADS continues to be a response to homelessness, not the cause of it. Since 1992, more than 140,000 nights of shelter have been provided and more than 382,000 meals have been served. Beyond shelter services, in 2008 West Suburban PADS helped to rehouse or prevent the loss of housing for a record 352 individuals, in 192 households, throughout our programs.

It’s also worth noting that during the past 17 years, the Village of Oak Park has seen a record-low crime rate, so to now somehow attribute increased crime to PADS is illogical, misguided and indefensible.

It is often easy to point fingers at the least among us and blame them for the ills of our world. In 1992, a group of Oak Park citizens, who witnessed homeless people on our streets, didn’t turn their back, or throw them a buck, or blame a neighboring community for the issue that presented itself. Instead they responded, like any compassionate community would, by rolling up their sleeves and helping. Today, a legion of 1,000 faithful volunteers, many of whom are residents of Oak Park, can affirm that those who come to us in need are deserving of our help. “Pushing PADS out of Oak Park” would not end homelessness, nor reduce crime, it would only leave a gapping hole of need.

Lynda Schueler is an Oak Park resident and executive director of West Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), a Maywood-based nonprofit that provides support for the homeless.

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